The first medal event of X Games Aspen 2013 kicked off under the lights and lightly falling snow as the Snowmobile Freestyle final produced a come-from-behind winner and brutal crashes that took out his toughest rivals.
Harnessing years of competitive snowmobiling experience, Levi LaVallee launched solid combinations, including a huge kiss-of-death flip, and raced through the turns on his final 75-second run to overtake leader Joe Parsons by three-tenths of a point to take the gold medal. Parsons finished with the silver, and Justin Hoyer won the bronze.
"I feel terrible about the accidents that happened," said LaVallee, who won the gold medal in 2008. "But I'm happy I put down a solid run and came out on top to win gold again. It's like, 'Pinch me! Is this for real?' "
The event took on a somber note from the outset. During the first run of the night, last year's bronze medalist, Caleb Moore, under-rotated an indy air backflip. The tips of his sled skis gouged the snow, pitching Moore face-first as his 450-pound snowmobile crashed down on him. The 25-year-old Texan laid motionless for several minutes before regaining consciousness.
"I feel like I just had the longest dream ever," a dazed Moore told his younger brother, 23-year-old Colten.
Colten Moore was there as the concussed Caleb got to his feet, waved to the crowd, and walked off the course to be transported for further medical evaluation.
"It's really hard to follow something like that," Parsons said before launching into his first of two runs. Nevertheless, Parsons rode fluidly from start to finish -- throwing in a cordova flip and a gator wrestler -- to post a score of 88.66 points, which held up against everybody except LaVallee.
Another favorite, Sweden's Daniel Bodin, 28, suffered mechanical difficulties throughout his first run, ending with a huge crash off the 100-foot jump. Bodin tumbled hard but jumped right to his feet and instantly started inspecting his snowmobile.
"I'm fine, but I can't believe this is happening," he said, clearly frustrated with the damage to his sled. Without a usable machine, the two-time gold medalist did not return for his final run.
The pack continued to thin as defending gold medalist Colten Moore over-rotated on the same jump, came down hard on his hip, and was taken off the course on a gurney.
The original field of eight started a man short as three-time event bronze medalist Heath Frisby had to bow out with mechanical difficulties after crashing two of his snowmobiles during practice. The 28-year-old crossover from freestyle motocross lit up last year's X Games Aspen with the first snowmobile front flip on his way to capturing gold in the best trick competition.
Back at the top after a two-year hiatus, the 30-year-old LaVallee -- the only athlete who's competed in all seven X Games snowmobile disciplines -- also will compete this weekend in GoPro Best Trick Freestyle, SnoCross, and Speed & Style.